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THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE MODERN CHURCH
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THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE MODERN CHURCH

THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE MODERN CHURCH

There are indeed a lot of spirituality been practiced in and outside of one’s religion. For instance, the spirituality in one’s religion differs to the other religions in the world. Why read about the spirituality in the Early Church and what can this teach us about the scriptures and faith? It is easy to underestimate the contributions of the past and to exaggerate the wisdom of the present. Can we trust the Christian teachers of the early church period? Did they read the scriptures well? Did their own cultural and religious blind spots prevent them from understanding the heart of the gospel?

Today there is a renewed interest in the writings of the early Church Fathers among Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox. Many are rediscovering the rich treasure of wisdom and insight of the early church scholars, pastors, and teachers who devoted their lives to the study of scriptures and the spirituality of the people. The early fathers had a tremendous zeal for God and the Scriptures. What we see dose up because of their access to the teachings of the apostles and the disciples of the apostles who also passed on their wisdom and insight.

Here below are discussed area about the spirituality of the early church, thus, I would be basing my arguments and topic on the three most interesting areas. These areas are; a background of the Apostolic Fathers, Christian life and Christian Gnosticism. Followed by these areas is also to contrast and compare between the spirituality of the Early and Modern Church.

In the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, written sometime between 70 and 100, we find a great deal of information about the Christian life in the early Church. It mentions, for example, the organization of the hierarchy that emerged at this period: apostles, prophets, doctors, bishops, priests and deacons. The moral teaching of the Didache is explicit and severe, as a protection, no doubt, against the immorality and superstition of the pagan world in which the early Christians lived. It is probable that, except for the Gospel of St. John, Letters and the Book of Revelation, the entire New Testament was composed before the writing of the Didache is an important link between the Acts of the Apostles and the Apostolic Fathers, and it is to their writings that we turn for a more detailed description of the spirituality of the early church.

o   The Apostolic Fathers

The works of the earliest Christian writers, called the “Apostolic Fathers,” were a transmission of the teachings of the apostles. These fathers are believed to have personally known some of the Twelve Apostles, or to have been significantly influenced them.[1]

It’s been seen and realized that most of their writings and works at the time period and geographical location as other works of early Christian literature. One interesting fact is, though, their writings were popular in the New Testament.

The following writing, are generally grouped together as having been written by the Apostolic Fathers;[2]

§  The Epistle of Diognetus

§  Letters attributed to Clement of Rome (First Epistle and Second Epistle of Clement)

§  The Didache

§  The Epistle of Barnabas

§  Seven epistles attributed to Ignatius of Antioch

§  The Epistle of Polycarp

§  The Martyrdom of Polycarp

§  The Shepherd of Hermas

The patrologist Coteher seems to have been the first to classify some of the early writers as “Apostolic Fathers” (in 1672). He listed them as follows:[3]

Barnabas, considered by ancient writers such as St. Clement and Origen to be the apostle by the same name and companion of ST. Paul, but modern criticism rejects the theory and refers to pseudo-Barnabas who was an intellectual and possibly a Gnostic. He was the author of a work consisting of 21 chapters and known as the Letter of Barnabas.

St. Clement of Rome, the third successor of St. Peter as Bishop of Rome, who addressed a Letter to the Church of Corinth in the year 95 or 96, during or immediately after the persecution by Domitian. The occasion of the Letter was the division caused in the Church of Corinth by certain proud, ambitious and envious members.

In any case, Hermas (author of The Shepherd), St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp, and the Didache are some other sources of the “Apostolic Fathers”. 

o   Christian Life

First of all, early Christian spirituality was Christocentric, both because the words and deeds of Christ were still fresh in the minds of Christians and because Christians lived in anticipation of the return of the risen Christ. In the liturgical context of the Eucharist, prayer and biblical homily the presence of Christ was felt or experienced.

Secondly, early Christian spirituality was eschatological, for the primary concern of the first Christians was vigilantly prepared for the Parousia or second coming of Christ. A lot were in the church in the vigil, because of the fear they had and felt the Parousia was imminent, their lives were lived differently.

Thirdly, primitive Christian spirituality was ascetical, but the word “ascetical” should be understood in its original meaning of the practice and growth of the virtues rather than acts of austerity and self-denial. Later, asceticism would develop into a way of life practiced by a particular class of people within the Church, but inn these early days asceticism was a logical consequence of the Christocentric and eschatological aspects of Christian spirituality.

Following the teaching of St. Paul, St. Ignatius of Antioch had urged the initiation of Christ as a duty for all Christians. Martyrdom, of course, was considered the supreme example of the imitation of Christ, and of this, St. Ignatius gives a clearest and most inspiring testimony; but for the generality of Christians as yet untouched by persecution, the imitation of Christ was achieved by the practice of virtue.

Finally, early Christian spirituality was communal. The common life of the Church was such, right from the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. Another requirement to live this in the very nature of the Eucharistic liturgy and common prayer. The testimony of the Acts of the Apostles can be found in the text Acts 2:42-47.

o   Christian Gnosticism

Gnosticism was merely the last “incarnation” of a very old belief system, going back at least to the 6th century BCE and probably much further even than that.[4]  It is said that; this belief was known by some as Orpheunism, named after the Greek hero Orpheus. Orpheus as the son of Zeus, and incredibly skilled musician.

Unfortunately, the majority of Orphean beliefs are lost to us. This is not merely because of late Christian eradication of any record of them, but because they did not generally put their teachings in writing. The earliest Orpheans used music, songs and poetry, via oral tradition, to convey their teachings. They appear to have depended on songs, thereafter.

The Orphean version of Christianity did not emerge as a distinct Christian movement, until late second century CE. By this time it went by name “Gnostic”, from the Greek word ‘gnosis’ meaning ‘knowledge, to know’. Which is referring to its quest for knowledge of the divine.

Although it had a label, Gnosticism was not a comprehensive package of doctrines, but rather, simply a mystical, Orphean-inspired approach to the spirituality of Christians. As such, not all Gnostics were actually ‘heretical’ or teaching things that other Christians did not.

Perhaps the greatest issue diving Gnosticism from mainstream Christianity, in addition to the “secret doctrines”, was Docetism, which is to say the belief that Jesus did not actually die. Gnostics claimed that Jesus had never actually come in true physical form. For if he had, he would have been corrupted by the inherent evil of the physical- but that his bodily existence had been merely an illusion.

In fact, another interesting aspect is that many Christians even of the mainstream variety were Docetists. Among them was Origen, a Church Father whose writings show a good deal of varieties among Gnostic congregations.

Photo Credit: Pixabay Stained glasses
Some Contrast and Comparison of the spirituality of the Early and Modern Church

First, one uncomfortable value trumpeted by the early Christians was their view of the Church as a family. The first Christians saw themselves as brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers to everyone who was part of the Christian community. This is, of course, well-known to anyone who reads the New Testament.

In the first century, the family unit extended far beyond the nuclear family and was held together by an unconditional bond of commitment and service. You did not have to like your relatives, but you were expected to love them.

It’s within this context that Jesus and Paul blew open the doors of the home and welcomed in all believers as brothers and sisters. They created a new focus on the family that extended far beyond one’s nuclear relatives and included people of every race and social strata who gave their allegiance to the risen Christ.

Secondly, many churches today special most of their reverence on salaries, building mortgages and other material supplements to ministry. For instance, look at any Church budget and you will probably find 1 or 2 parents of church funds allocated to benevolence- helping poor people in need. Maybe another 5 percent, or 10 percent at best, is given to needs outside the church that on some level help the poor.

But such distribution of funds runs counter opposite to how the early church spent its money. The New Testament talks a lot about giving money, but rarely- it ever talks about giving money toward a building.

Another modern value that was unknown to the early church is militarism. Militarism refers to the “belief or desire that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests.” There’s no doubt about it- militarism profoundly shapes American values.

But the early Church was unmistakably not militaristic. Early Christians were never fascinated with the power of the Roman military; rather, they belong to the rhythm of the cross, where evil is conquered not by swords and spears but by suffering and love. 

In summary

Let me summarize. Many evangelicals know little or nothing about the spirituality of the early Church. These ancient writers were the early Christians who taught and wrote about the Church Fathers, Christian life, Christian Gnosticism, to mention but a few. In fact, they also contributed to the sacred truths of the faith in the centuries after the death of the apostles and the Gnostics. And so, it is of that importance for one to discover and research on the impact of the spirituality of the early church.

[1] Stevenson, J. A New Eusebius SPCK (1965) p400

[2] Cross, F. and Livingstone E., eds. The Apostolic Fathers (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974)

[3]Stevenson, J. A New Eusebius SPCK (1965)

[4]Stevenson, J. A New Eusebius SPCK (1965)

Published: November 09, 2019

18 Comments
  • Kathleen Cregg
    Posted at 07:19h, 23 December Reply

    As a Catholic myself, you’ve pointed out some new information about the spirituality of the early Church. So interesting!

  • Kileen
    Posted at 09:17h, 23 December Reply

    This was really interesting and there was so much here to unpack! I never knew this about spirituality or these methods of worship.

  • Rose Ann Sales
    Posted at 10:22h, 23 December Reply

    Every Catholic must read this. Thanks for sharing.

  • Nikki Wayne
    Posted at 10:24h, 23 December Reply

    Great post. I will share this on my social media.

  • Krysten Quiles
    Posted at 04:45h, 24 December Reply

    Interesting. I’m not into organized religion but appreciate this post.

  • Celebrate Woman Today
    Posted at 17:19h, 24 December Reply

    Religious is all about separating us all. Religion is not spirituality, far from it. And the history of religious wars and power fights has been a bloody and very vivid proof of it all.

  • Angela
    Posted at 17:34h, 24 December Reply

    I never think about that way , It was interesting to read. Thanks for sharing

  • Pedro
    Posted at 18:46h, 24 December Reply

    Hi Terence,

    Thanks for a very informative post.

    As an evangelical myself, I would agree with your conclusion that many evangelicals know little or nothing about the spirituality of the early Church, because I was not aware of some of the historical facts you have stated in this article.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Best,

    Pedro

  • Knashz
    Posted at 04:55h, 25 December Reply

    This is a wonderful and intriguing post. <3

  • Kuntala Bhattacharya
    Posted at 14:32h, 25 December Reply

    Great deal of information, liked reading. I gained much knowledge of the spirituality of churches.

  • Nimra khan
    Posted at 16:30h, 25 December Reply

    That was really interesting and there was a lot to unzip! I never knew anything about spirituality or these methods of worship.

  • Lyosha
    Posted at 18:45h, 25 December Reply

    I am not Christian and it was a very educational read to me. thank you for clarifying things

  • Rosey
    Posted at 20:19h, 25 December Reply

    I see and hear so many people say awful things about religion. I think it can be taken to extremes but I enjoy going to church and all that goes with it, and I’m not extreme in any way about it. I do love God and Jesus, and that’s a personal choice. 🙂 It’s interesting to hear the history behind things.

  • Kathy Ngo
    Posted at 15:57h, 26 December Reply

    I think that the main thing about religion is that as long as it does not step on someone as a person, we should all respect it and let people worship what God they believe in.

  • Nimra khan
    Posted at 21:52h, 28 December Reply

    Interesting. I don’t like organized religion, but I really love your blog post.

  • Mosaic Designs
    Posted at 14:29h, 29 December Reply

    It is great to see the church is evolving, it’s been slow but it is happening which is awesome.

  • Yanitza
    Posted at 05:16h, 30 December Reply

    Very interesting and informative article with a good point of view.

  • The Frugal Samurai
    Posted at 11:38h, 21 February Reply

    A very good read.

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